Texas boating: Key rules and top spots

27th April 2022 Elena Manighetti

Texas boating: Key rules and top spots

The boating season just started off in much of the Unite States. If you plan to get out on the water in Texas this year, read on - we’ve summed up all the information you need to know.

How to get started

If you are just trying boating out, you can rent a boat in one of the many boating hotspots. Hiring a small powerboat is easy and doesn’t require much planning. However, in Texas, in order to drive a boat that’s more than 15 horsepower or a sailboat that’s over 14ft, you will need to get a Texas Boater Education Certificate. This applies to any person born on or after September 1, 1993.

If you’re ready to pull the trigger and buy a boat, you’ll also need to register it with the state if:

  • It’s a motorized vessel

  • It’s a sailboat with an auxiliary engine

  • It’s a sailboat over 14 feet in length

  • It’s a USCG Documented vessel.

You will also need to register your trailer at a tax office.

You can register your vessel through the Texas Parks & Wildlife Office or at your local tax office. In order to do it, fill in the application form, supply the required documents (such as proof of ownership), and pay the registration fee.

texas boating

Texas boating rules

As we’ve seen above, to take out any boat over 15 horsepower or over 14ft in length, you will need to obtain a Boater Education Certificate. An equivalent certificate from another state is also valid in Texas.

Life jackets

According to Texas law, all children under 13 in all boats under 26 feet must wear a US-Coast-Guard-approved life jacket while underway. All vessels, including kayaks, must have type I, II, II, or V wearable life jackets for each person on board. 

Anyone on or being towed by a PWC must at all times be wearing a non-inflatable Coast-Guard-approved life jacket. Jet skis can only be operated between sunrise and sunset.

All life jackets must be in serviceable condition, readily accessible, and of the right size for the person who uses them.

In addition to this, vessels 16 feet or over need to carry one Type IV throwable personal flotation device. Canoes and kayaks are excluded from this.

Boating under the influence

It’s illegal to drive a boat with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher in Texas. The consequences include pricey fines and jail time. If you refuse to submit a specimen to determine intoxication, your driver’s license may be suspended.

texas boating

Reporting accidents

In the state of Texas, you will need to report any accident within 30 days in which:

  • A death occurred 

  • A person was injured and needed medical treatment beyond first aid

  • Damages to vessels or property exceed $200,000.

You can report a boat incident through a local law enforcement agency or your local game warden. Alternatively, call TPWD 24 hour police communications operator.

These are the laws which apply in Texas specifically. However, there are many regulations which are relevant to all the USA you need to follow on the water. These include the COLREGs, speed limits, and more. You will learn these on your Boater Education course.

Texas boating destinations

As a boater or angler, you can enjoy a staggering 150 lakes, 367 miles of Gulf coastline, 15 rivers, and 3,700 streams in Texas.

Below are our favorite boating destinations in Texas, in no particular order.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi, also known as the Sparkling City by the Sea, is the capital of the Coastal Bend. It’s famous for its beautiful downtown bayfront. The highest wind speeds in North America were recorded here. There are plenty of activities to do, like fishing, surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, and sailing.

Local anglers claim Corpus Christi offers the greatest inshore and offshore fishing in the world. You can catch trout, redfish, pompano, sharks, Spanish mackerel, kingfish, and more.

Lake Travis

Thanks to its unique limestone bottom, Lake Travis has crystal clear blue waters, which make it the state’s most popular freshwater recreational destination. You’ll find waterparks, yacht clubs, ziplining, lakeside parks, marinas, and more. Fishing isn’t fantastic, though. If you’re hoping to catch something big, you’re better off heading to the coast.

texas boating

Galveston Bay

Located on the eastern edge of the Gulf Coast, the port of Galveston has a lot to offer - from sport fishing and sailing to dolphin watching. From the bay you can explore the canals, sail to Jamaica Beach, and reach West Bay. 

The plentiful jetties, piers, bay reefs, and beaches offer easy access to the water for everyone, so fishing is very popular. Some claim the best saltwater fishing in Texas. You can catch flounder, cobia, sharks, redfish, speckled, and more. There are many sport fishing charters in the bay.

Lake Austin

If you enjoy the city life as much as boating and fishing, Lake Austin is for you. Here, you can divide your time between strolling the streets of Austin and fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill, redbreast, and redear. There’s a good chance of catching a largemouth bass trophy.

texas boating

Padre Island National Seashore

The Padre Island National Seashore is the world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island. It separates the Gulf from the Laguna Madre, a rare hypersaline lagoon. The 70 miles of coast are a nesting ground for Kempìs Ridley sea turtles and 380 bird species. 

The park isn’t accessible to pleasure craft and fishing is forbidden, but it’s something not to be missed. If you’re staying in Corpus Christi, get yourself on a park tour.

Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Lake is a river-like reservoir on the Colorado River, in Austin. While swimming is not allowed, you can boat on any engineless craft. Outboards are not permitted on Lady Bird Lake, but you can use electric trolling motors.

The lake has good fishing, with a large population of largemouth bass, some sunfish and reader, and a few big catfish. It’s common to catch and release 20 to 30 bass weighing 2-3 pounds in a day.

texas boating

These are the main requirements for boaters in Texas at the time of writing. Don’t rely on this information only - check up-to-date rules and regulations. It’s your responsibility to follow the law and be a responsible boater.

Before you head out boating in Texas, download the Deckee app from the App Store or Google Play. Find boat ramps and speed zones on the map, measure distances, check the marine weather forecast, file a float plan, and more.

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